A team of French archaeologists was conducting an illegal excavation near the French city of Caron, 101 years after they believed the wreckage from the infamous Winter Tunnel Crash could have happened. In early 1917, French forces launched an all-out attack on the state of Chemin des Dames, northeast of Paris, in an attempt to retake the Aisne area.
Unknown to the French and – German troops built an underground tunnel to supply German forces that ran 300 meters (984 feet) north of the ridge. On 4 May 1917, more than two dozen soldiers took refuge inside the tunnel as heavy French bombardment left the entrance, setting fire to the reserve ammunition and sealing off the only way out.
The ventilation shafts also closed, filling the tunnels with toxic gases. Within the next six days, the oxygen ran out, and those who had not previously committed suicide left breathless. Only three survived long enough to be rescue and describe the situation they faced there. “Time passed and it became difficult to breathe,” wrote Musketier Carl Fire of the 11th Company Reserve Infantry Regiment 111. “The heat was unbearable. We started to feel thirsty … we lost all hope.”
“I will never forget the death of my comrades. One was calling his wife, another for his parents and siblings. The struggle for life or death was slow and terrifying. Everyone was calling for water, but it was in vain. Death laughed at his harvest and death guarded the barricade, so no one could escape.” Firer describes how his friend told him to load a pistol to end his life, before searching for a pistol for him, only to become unconscious before firing from a gun.
In the dark when he crawled around in search of water, he passed a flashlight and tried to turn it on. “It took all my strength and then the light hit my eyes, but what I saw was a horrible scene. My dead, naked comrades were lying in a compressed position and with their arms outstretched. I didn’t want to see anymore and turned off the torch again.” In addition, lost consciousness, I do not know how long.”
Trees and shrubs rose above the battlefield, obscuring where the tunnel was. The location remained a mystery for over a century before Allen Malinowski discovered a map of his location and headed to the site to identify it in the real world. Authorities have been searching for him for more than a decade, when his son Pierre conducted an illegal excavation of the site four meters below the ground. He and his team found hundreds of gas mask canisters, two bodies, as well as a gun.